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Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Should Women Run?

Mike Boyle wrote this article on women runners... Why Women Shouldn't run

Later, Boyle posted the response in his newsletter...

Should Anyone Run?

From Shane Lakins

Recently Mike Boyle sparked a lively debate within the running community when he wrote the article "Women Should Not Run". The actual title was supposed to be "Should Women Run?", but the end result would have been the same. The title it ran under just added a little more fuel to the fire.

Ironically as a running coach, I do not totally disagree with his comment. There are some people who should not run. In fact, if you only looked at the number of injuries incurred by running enthusiasts in a given year (between 50-80% depending on the source) then Mike may have fallen short by singling out women when in fact he should have said nobody should be a distance runner! Similarly, if we only looked at the number of ACL injuries produced from women playing basketball, one might deduce that this is an even more dangerous sport than running. These ACL injuries are caused by many of the same musculoskeletal and biomechanical problems that Mike noted for women distance runners.

As fitness professionals we owe it to our clients to inform them about the inherent risk of certain activities, but we also suggest they find activities they enjoy. If they enjoy running or playing basketball, then it is our job to educate them on how to run and jump properly to decrease their chance of becoming one of these injury statistics.

I think Mike has oversimplified things a bit and looked at the result (which is a lot of injuries) and not addressed the real issue which is biomechanics. Kind of like "throwing the baby out with the bath water" as he says. It's funny, if you golf you get a pro to help improve your swing, if you swim you get a coach so you don't drown, but if you run... well, anyone can do that, right?

Too many running programs follow simple linear progressions assuming that all people improve at the same rate. Furthermore, most of these programs, whether they are on-line or group driven, rarely address the need to run properly over the need to run "X" number of miles or for "Y" number of minutes.

Personally as a coach, I care about results, but results come as part of a process. Running is no different than any other skill in sport... it must be learned and practiced; however, it is often assumed that running is a natural thing and each person will develop their own technique (true to a point). Not to digress, but have you ever seen a baby born with a pair of shoes on? Over-dependence on shoes and orthotics, to stabilize the body and absorb all the shock, has led to a herd of brain dead runners simply putting one foot in front of the other and not considering the consequences of their actions, until they are injured. Then what do they do? They look at where the injury occurred and usually their doctor, physiotherapist or chiropractor says you need orthotics, lots of treatments and bigger more stable shoes. The problem is not the shoes, it's the person in the shoes!

If you want a simple example of what I mean, video tape someone running on concrete with shoes on and then without shoes. I don't care if they are male, female, skinny or over-weight, you will see that what they consider normal (in shoes) is very, very far from the true normal (without shoes).

Most runners do not fall into the elite category, but they can learn a lot from this group. One is they do not land on the heel and the other is they are almost all running at 180+ strides per minute, regardless of gender, leg length, speed or nationality. Approximately 80% of the running population are heel strikers with a stride frequency of 140-165 per minute. Believe me, if you do not know how you land or how many strides you take, you are well on your way to being one of Mike's injury statistics whether you are male or female.

Unfortunately the injury statistics have also resulted in running shoe manufacturers reacting by making bigger, more padded and reinforced shoes. The end result is that people have forgotten how they ran as a child in the back yard without shoes. We now have springs, air bags, gel packs and a myriad of space age technology in the heel of shoes to protect you from your own landing. If the heel is so soft and the natural place to land, why do you need all the artificial padding? The truth is, a runner should never land on their heel (sprint or distance). Mike is correct, the typical way distance runners land is an injury waiting to happen. Next time you buy shoes, remember that more is not better if you actually want to run correctly.

Is running for everyone? Of course not, but with some proper coaching and understanding of some biomechanical principles a lot more people would enjoy the sport without the need for a team of health professionals to keep them going. So ladies, fear not you can run!

Shane Lakins is Head Coach of XC and Distance Track at Queen's University and been part several national teams for Canada. He owns Kingston Body Management and writes and lectures on fitness and running related topics. He is in the process of writing a book on the biomechanics of running set for release in the summer of 2007. Shane can be reached at:

What do you think?


advisor said...

My Friend Jen Flint, who owns two Runaway Success stores in the Philly area ( had this to say:

This article is so amazing. The most natural thing people do in general is run, but this response is right, so many folks have issues that are due to shoes, form and sadly, weight. He implies that weight doesn't have anything to do with it but I totally disagree...back when running was the only form of transportation available, there weren't any fat people! No one can convince me that all that extra weight doesn't come into play - even if your form is impeccable, if you are fat you are at risk for injury. The downside is that in order to reap the benefits of "learning" to run the right way is that a) you really need to have someone helping you that actually knows what they are doing - harder to find than you might think and not really a realistic option for all folks since coaches and trainers aren't free and b) it takes patience and diligence. Many folks who run do it because they are (ironically) essentially lazy: they choose running to begin with because they feel it is the biggest "bang for their workout buck" meaning they get the greatest fitness benefit in the shortest period of time - they don't have an interest in being patient and taking time to work on the details of changing things.

American culture is kind of at the root of all the problems above...the mentality of instant gratification...and this even goes back to looking for orthotics and footwear to correct all problems instead of changing biomechanical form or lifestyle, which would be much more difficult but healthier choices - I can't tell you how many people come in and ask me what shoe will make their knee stop hurting. It's like: "well, considering I don't know what is causing your knee to hurt to begin with, that's not a question we can easily answer" and even after all these years I am so surprised that folks would walk into a store and ask such a question - I mean, we can try to help but we're not doctors and if all it took was a pair of shoes to heal all knees, ortho's would be out of business!! But everyone wants that quick easy fix...

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